..I began speaking.. First, I took issue with the media's characterization of the post-Katrina New Orleans as resembling the third world as its poor citizens clamored for a way out. I suggested that my experience in New Orleans working with the city's poorest people in the years before the storm had reflected the reality of third-world conditions in New Orleans and that Katrina had not turned New Orleans into a third-world city but had only revealed it to the world as such. I explained that my work, running Reprieve, a charity that brought lawyers and volunteers to the Deep South from abroad to work on death penalty issues, had made it clear to me that much of the world had perceived this third-world reality, even if it was unnoticed by our own citizens. To try answer Ryan's question, I attempted to use my own experience to explain that for many people in New Orleans and in poor communities across the country, the government was merely an antagonist, a terrible landlord, a jailer and a prosecutor. As a lawyer assigned to indigent people under sentence of death and paid with tax dollars, I explained the difficulty of working with clients who stand to be executed and who are provided my services by the state, not because they deserve them, but because the Constitution requires that certain appeals to be filed before these people can be killed. The state is providing my clients with my assistance, maybe the first real assistance they have ever received from the state, so that the state can kill them. I explained my view that the country had grown complacent before Hurricane Katrina, believing that the civil rights struggle had been fought and won, as though having a national holiday for Martin Luther King, or an annual march by politicians over the bridge in Selma, Alabama, or a prosecution - forty years too late - of Edgar Ray Killen for the murder of civil rights workers in Philadelphia, Mississippi, were any more than gestures. Even though President Bush celebrates his birthday, wouldn't Dr. King cry if he could see how little things have changed since his death? If politicians or journalists went to Selma any other day of the year, they would see that it is a crumbling city suffering from all of the woes of the era before civil rights were won as well as new woes that have come about since. And does anyone really think that the Mississippi criminal justice system could possibly be a vessel of social change when it incarcerates a greater percentage of its population than almost any place in the world, other than Louisiana and Texas and then compels these prisoners, most of whom are black, to work prison farms that their ancestors worked as chattel of other men? ...I hoped, out loud, that the post-Katrina experience could be a similar moment [to the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fiasco], in which the American people could act like the children in the story and declare that the emperor has no clothes and hasn't for a long time. That, in light of Katrina, we could be visionary and bold about what people deserve. We could say straight out that there are people in this country who are racist, that minorities are still not getting a fair shake and that Republican policies heartlessly disregard the needs of individual citizens and betray the common good. As I stood there, exhausted, in front of the thinning audience of New Yorkers, it seemed possible that New Orleans's destruction and the suffering of its citizens hadn't been in vain.
Billy Sothern
I KNEW IT WAS OVERwhen tonight you couldn't make the phone ringwhen you used to make the sun risewhen trees used to throw themselvesin front of youto be paper for love lettersthat was how i knew i had to do itswaddle the kids we never hadagainst january's cold slicebundle them in winterclothes they never neededso i could drop them off at my mom'seven though she lives on the other side of the countryand at this late west coast hour isassuredly east coast sleepingpeacefullyher house was lit like a candlethe way homes should bewarm and goldenand homeand the kids ran inand jumped at the bichon frisenamed luckythat she never hadthey hugged the dogit wriggledand the kids were happyyours and minethe ones we never hadand my mom wasgrand maternal, which is to say, with stylethat only comes when you've seenenough to know gracelike when to pretend it's christmas ora birthday soshe lit her voice with tinylights and pretendedshe didn't see me cryingas i drove awayto the hotel connected to the barwhere i ordered the cheapest whisky they hadjust because it shares your first namebecause they don't make a whiskycalled babyand i only thought what i gotwas whati orderedi toasted the hangoverinevitable as sunthat used to risein your namei toasted the carnivalswe never went toand the things you never wonfor methe ferris wheels we neverkissed on and all the dreamsbetween usthat sat therelike balloons on a carney's boardwaiting to explode with passionbut slowly deflatedhung slaveunder the pin-prick of a tackhungheads downlike loverswhen it doesn, like the smell of cheap,like the smell ofthe deadlike the cheap, dead flowersyou never sentthat i never threwout of the windowof a cari neverreallyowned
Daphne Gottlieb